Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies TV Review

We take a look at Paramount Plus’s ambitious prequel series, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.

PLOT: The musical series takes place four years before the original “Grease”. In 1954, before rock ‘n’ roll ruled, before the T-Birds were the coolest in the school, four fed-up, outcasts dare to have fun on their own terms, sparking a moral panic that will change Rydell High forever.

REVIEW: My expectations for Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies were very low. I have an appreciation for the classic feature film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, as well as for the Michelle Pfieffer-led sequel. The years have not been kind to some elements from Grease, but that has not stopped people from attempting stage productions and even a maligned live version on FOX. Now, as the streaming wars continue to mine their intellectual property for any potential series, the Paramount+ prequel series Rise of the Pink Ladies aims to correct some of the less diverse elements of Grease for a new generation of fans. Feeling like a blend of Glee and High School Musical, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies works far better than I expected, thanks to the leading ladies who sing very catchy tunes.

Grease,Rise of the Pink Ladies, Paramount Plus

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies opens right as summer ends, and the 1954 school year at Rydell High is about to begin. We immediately meet Jane (Marisa Davila), a smart teen who recently moved from New York City. Jane caught the eye of popular jock Buddy (Jason Schmidt), and the two have just started going steady, to the chagrin of Buddy’s ex-girlfriend Susan (Madison Thompson). While Jane’s family, a Hispanic mother and Italian father, want Jane to succeed and fit in, Jane becomes the center of scandalous rumors about her and Buddy. Jane decides to face them head-on. Jane befriends a trio of outcasts, including Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), sister of T-Birds leader Richie (Johnathan Nieves), who also happens to be dealing with her own scandal, aspiring fashion designer Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara), and butch class clown Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso) who doesn’t fit in with the guys or the girls. The quartet help each other and also create the inaugural class of Pink Ladies.

Over the first six episodes made available for this review, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies forges its distinct voice from the feature films while still capturing what made the movies so popular. Despite being set seventy years ago, Rise of the Pink Ladies is made in a very relatable manner with a strong, female-centric angle. By focusing on the formation of the Pink Ladies, showrunner Annabel Oakes tackles several contemporary issues in a historical context. Female empowerment was an element of Grease, but it came in the guise of Sandy trying to get a boy rather than make herself happy. Here, Jane, Olivia, Cynthia, Nancy, and Hazel (Shanel Bailey) are motivated to be appreciated as people, not just girls, but are not afraid to use their femininity to their advantage. Early in the series, multiple musical numbers embrace sexuality from a woman’s perspective and do so in contrast to the masculine bend of the original musical. The diverse cast here includes Latinx, Black, LGBTQ, and Asian characters, with racism and sexism playing a factor in the story but never in a heavy-handed manner.

The look and tone of Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies hews very closely to the feature films. There are expansive musical numbers with solo performances and large-scale and choreographed numbers with main cast members and an ensemble of backup dancers. Each hour-long episode features three or four original numbers, giving this ten-episode series an expansive tracklisting. All of the songs are original compositions, a risky proposition when you consider how iconic some of the music from Grease is. Luckily, these songs are very catchy and rival some of the original tunes from Ryan Murphy’s Glee. Rather than emulating the sound of the movie soundtracks, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies offers anachronistic ballads and Broadway-worthy numbers which benefit from a solid cast of singers to belt them out. While none of the songs stand out as much as “Greased Lightnin’” or “Summer Nights” amongst the countless classics from the stage musical and feature film, these songs will likely resonate with all ages.

While the series does directly connect to Grease in a manner I will not spoil here, Jackie Hoffman’s performance as Assistant Principal McGee is one of many callbacks to the movie. Hoffman is excellent in that she never tries to replicate Eva Arden’s performance from the movie. She is also one of the lone recognizable actors in this series, comprised of several newcomers. Of the main cast, no one has more than a handful of credits before Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. Yet, all of them deliver on the slightly over-the-top style of the feature film while still managing to land the dramatic elements in equal stride with the comedic moments. There is some broad drama here, most of which pushes this series into firm PG-13 territory, but it works if you give yourself over to the pulpy fun of it all. This story is meant to resonate with audiences but does so in the same way a stage production would: a broad emotional range used to support the musical numbers. It does not always work, but it does far more often than not.

Grease,Rise of the Pink Ladies, Paramount Plus

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies has all of the requisite elements of the musical that inspired it and tells relevant stories that all ages can appreciate. With a female-centric bend to the story, Rise of the Pink Ladies has the potential to branch the storytelling into other elements of the world of Grease. Still, there is a balanced look at the Greasers and the Preps and the unsung populace of Rydell students who otherwise have not been featured at the forefront. With enjoyable songs and interesting characters, musical fans will find much to love in this series, which may also trigger another spotlight on the original Grease movie. Rise of the Pink Ladies is missing those signature songs that will make it memorable, but there is more than enough material in this season to make it worth watching and coming back for subsequent seasons.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies premieres on April 6th on Paramount+.


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